It’s a simple idea, really. But at a time when there’s so much antagonism among people of all political persuasions, a National Decency Day may be just what’s needed.
Today, May 14, is National Decency Day, with proclamations forthcoming from more than 25 states and bipartisan Congressional support endorsing an initiative that was started on Shelter Island in 2017 by Lisa Cholnoky.
Her aim was to create a program in schools for students in all grade levels to reach out to the wider community and spread the word that it was time for civil discourse and respect toward one another.
The New York City-based Ms. Cholnoky, an Island part-timer, is a graphic designer who created the Decency button and logo as a simple reminder of her goal. People seeing her wearing the button would engage her in conversation as she told them about the “simple ABCs” of decency: Active listening. Better understanding. Compassion for others.
She mailed buttons to every member of Congress and was recognized on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to offer a speech on reaching across the aisle to one another with civility.
“The Decency Movement represents a moment in the midst of the polarized atmosphere for all people to reclaim the tradition, practices and skills for civil discussion of our differences of opinion,” Ms. Cholnoky said.
Shelter Island students plan to carry the Decency Campaign message to the Town Board at its work session today.
It gained impetus with School Superintendent Christine Finn creating a program that would recognize and encourage acts of decency. Each month students have chosen one of their peers — and sometimes one of their teachers or a parent or adult from outside the school — to reign as a “Decency Ambassador.”
The program includes a series of discussions among students so they can demonstrate ways in which they can disagree without becoming disagreeable with those who saw issues differently.
They rapidly embraced listening to one another respectfully, Ms. Finn said.
Artist and Reporter cartoonist Peter Waldner created a mural for the school and each month one or more students or adults are photographed sitting on a bench under his mural.
Students packed Decency bags with health and beauty products for distribution to those receiving services through the East Hampton-based organization, Retreat, which assists families who have sustained abuse.
Ms.Finn tells a story of a minor accident she had on the Long Island Expressway, and while the damage to her car wasn’t great, she would eventually have to have it fixed.
Four days after the accident, she walked out to the school parking lot to find the dent repaired. She has no idea who had taken the time to repair it, but it says everything about the decency among students and staff, Ms. Finn said.